23/10/2014 8:26
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Analysis & Opinion

Mauritania: coups as a new road to democracy

21:45 07/08/2008
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Maria Appakova) - August spells trouble not only for Russia. Mauritania saw a second military coup in three years in the first days of August.

Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, who became president as a result of the first free democratic elections in Mauritania in March 2007, kept his position for a little less than a year and a half. Does his demotion mean that one more attempt to establish democracy in the Greater Middle East has fallen through? Only a year ago, Europe and America admired Mauritania, using it as an example to follow for all other developing nations, especially Arab nations.

On August 6, the military arrested the president and Prime Minister Yahya Ould Ahmad Waqef, and set up a transitional state council which cancelled all presidential decrees.

Mauritania has endured five coups and nine aborted attempts to change the political system since the early 1960s, and this event might have been nothing new but for one "if." The 2005 coup was crowned with democratic parliamentary and presidential elections. Having deposed the previous president of 21 years Maaouha Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya, the military announced democratic reforms, and held a referendum on amendments to the Constitution. They wanted to limit the president's stay in power to two five-year terms (before the president could be re-elected indefinitely every six years). Eventually they kept their promise, and transferred power to the civilian authorities.

These democratic elections, which were unprecedented not only for Mauritania but also for the rest of the Arab world, promoted Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi after two rounds. He confirmed a course toward modernization, democratization, and national consensus. It seemed that from then on all problems would be resolved in a civilized manner. The opposition and the military which pursued democratic reforms should have been content but it seems another coup could not be avoided.

The political crisis in Mauritania began brewing several months ago. Governments were replaced by other governments, and two weeks ago parliament did not back the last cabinet because it did not include representatives of the opposition. Finally, one day before the coup, 25 deputies and 23 senators resigned from the ruling National Pact for Democracy and Development (PNDD) party. The president suspected, apparently with good reason, that the generals stood behind the parliamentary crisis. He demoted the commanders of the presidential guards and army. This provoked the military into arresting the president.

As in 2005, this coup was bloodless, and enjoyed the broad support of the population. The new leaders promised to hold presidential elections as soon as possible, and not to deviate from the country's democratic path. The plotters and their supporters believe that what happened in Mauritania was not a coup but an adjustment of democratic development. As for the president, he simply failed to justify the hopes of his compatriots. This is likely, and the intention to conduct democratic elections is also sincere, but where is the guarantee that the new president will keep his position any longer than the previous one? How should the world community react to these events? Should it welcome the new elections every time they are held?

The African Union, Arab countries, the West and Russia unanimously denounced the 2005 coup in Mauritania. Later on, all of them welcomed with the same enthusiasm the reforms carried out by the military, and were in a rave about the elections held in Mauritania. EU Chief Election Observer Marie-Anne Isler-Beguin said that Mauritania could proudly present its model to the world. On behalf of the Election Observation Mission (EOM), she congratulated the election organizers, and the Mauritanian people for using an opportunity to enter the democratic era.

Democracy has proved to be rather elusive as historic traditions are hard to give up. It seems that the world community will have to accept this, and again praise Mauritania if it elects a new president with due observance of all democratic standards.

However, the military may encounter problems for overthrowing a democratically elected president. It is easy to condemn them. Although Mauritania has been doing well economically in the last few years, primarily because of the oil deposit discovered some time ago, it is still importing 70% of its food. Besides, it has a multi-million dollar foreign debt.

However, the introduction of sanctions against Mauritania may trigger a humanitarian catastrophe, and provoke confrontation between different political forces. It has not yet recovered from the consequences of inter-ethnic clashes in 1989-1991, and a new civil war is the last thing it needs. The world community does not need it either, because as a result Mauritania may turn into one more bridgehead of international terrorism, all the more so since in the 2007-2008 it was a scene of several acts of terror, responsibility for which is laid on al-Qaeda.

But will the world community be wise enough not to exacerbate the situation in Mauritania? Will it have enough patience to accept its peculiar path to democracy? This is a tricky dilemma. The world community will have to either reconcile itself to endless coups, or uphold the purity of democracy, and receive a new Iraq, or Palestine.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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